Vegased Out

Having just returned from our second trip to Las Vegas in as many months — after an absence of more than a decade — I think we could happily let at least another decade pass before we hit The Strip again. I feel a little bit wary of more Vegas exposure right now — sort of like the look on this chair at the Shops at Caesar’s Palace that is modeled on the bust of emperor Constantine.

You might say we’re Vegased out.

We went to Las Vegas to join in celebrating Richard winning some national awards for his reporting on real estate issues, and we enjoyed getting together with family and toasting his success.  And Las Vegas is an interesting place and a great spot for people watching.  But if you don’t gamble — and we don’t — it gets old quickly. The extreme heat, the jostling crowds surging from casino to casino, the slot machine-boosted level of general background noise, the inflated prices for just about everything other than the cheapest souvenir, and the sense that almost everyone around you is eager to cut loose and create their own “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” anecdote to tell their pals back home . . . it all makes Las Vegas a weird place.

Most American cities are pretty similar; only a few are really distinctive, with a special vibe all their own. Las Vegas is one of the few — but a little taste of it is plenty.

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End Of The Strip

This morning I walked down to Mandalay Bay, which anchors the far end of The Strip. Saturday morning is a good time for a walk in Las Vegas — the crowds are gone, and other than a few joggers and some muttering people lurching out of the casinos, you’ve pretty much got the sidewalk to yourself.

The end of The Strip is a bit strange. Unlike the other end, where the modern Strip morphs into Old Las Vegas in a haze of Strip malls, construction sites, and cheesy wedding chapels, the Mandalay Bay end is more abrupt. You’ve got a fake New York skyline, a fake castle with multi-colored turrets, a fake Egyptian pyramid and Sphinx, the golden Mandalay Bay towers, and then . . . desert nothingness. Guests at Mandalay Bay look in one direction and see a gambling fantasyland, and look in the other and see a desolate waste.

There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Flamingos After Dark

There’s a lot of sameness in Las Vegas. You see the same slot machines and “no limit” rooms, one roulette wheel looks like another, and it seems like every casino has a Gordon Ramsey “Hell’s Kitchen”-themed restaurant. (How much “hell” can one guy produce, anyway?)

With so much sameness, it’s not surprising that every casino in Vegas appears to have adopted some kind of gimmick to distinguish it from its neighbors. The Flamingo, for example, has a little outdoor area where you can find actual flamingos. You have to walk through the entire casino to get there — because casino designers consciously make you walk through the casino area to get anywhere — but you can find the real flamingos outside, going about their grooming and classy strutting without paying too much attention to the fact they they now live in an artificial habitat next to a casino where Donny and Marie Osmond perform.

I feel sorry for the flamingos.

Lost In The Mists

The daytime temperature in Las Vegas these days is topping out at around 100 degrees. That’s ludicrously hot, even by mad dogs and Englishmen standards. So, how to lure the crowds staggering from one casino to another to stop at an outdoor cafe for an aperitif? The entrepreneurial proprietors at some spots offer a refreshing mist, the better to cool your fevered brow and stimulate your thirst.

How is that working, you ask? Well, no one was sitting at this outdoor cabaret, even though the misters were firing at full throttle. It turns out that, after the initial cooling sensation, the misters just leave you feeling a bit soggy — and it still is 100 degrees outside.

Stand-Up In The #MeToo Era

Last night a group of us went to Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.  It was the first time I’d been to a comedy club in the post-Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo era, and as we waited for the performance I found myself wondering if the MeToo movement would have any obvious effect on the material the comics would address.

Having now sat through a very funny night of performances by three different comedians, including Brad Garrett himself, I can report that, last night at least, the MeToo movement didn’t seem to have a material impact on the subject matter of the humor.  The comedians were as raunchy and focused on sexual humor and race- and ethnicity-related jokes as they’ve ever been.  So far as I can tell, the only change is that the sex-oriented humor dealt more with the sexual attributes and capabilities of men, rather than women.  I’m not sure that is a real change, because a rich vein of modern American humor has always been of the self-deprecating or male-on-male roasting variety.  Think of Henny Youngman or one of the Dean Martin celebrity roasts, for example.

Stand-up comedy is almost by definition not politically correct, because a significant element of humor is shock and surprise and lampooning social norms.  When, as happened last night, there is ongoing interplay between the performers and the audience, there are bound to be off-color comments as the comedians lob a few insults at the brave people in the front row.  And in the set monologues, there was lots of racially and sexually tinged humor that was at, or over, the edge.  But nobody seemed to be terrified about crossing any new, poorly defined boundaries, nobody seemed to be aggressively self-editing, and nobody seemed mortally offended, either, when last night’s performance came to a close.

One performance obviously doesn’t permit me to draw deep conclusions, but I’m guessing that live stand-up comedy is going to survive the MeToo movement.  But boy, if they ever outlaw jokes about sex and male body parts, stand-up comedy might not survive.

The Melting Pot

One of the more interesting things about our brief visit to Las Vegas was how diverse the place seems to be.

web1_tourism_101116bh_497_7281632In my walks navigating through the throngs of people up and down the Strip — which is a pretty good place for both walking and people watching — I saw people of all colors, shapes, and sizes (and, frequently, degrees of inebriation) taking in the sights.  The shirts people wear tell you that the place is a magnet for bachelorette parties, family reunions, conventions, and other small-scale get-togethers for people from all over, and you’ll hear lots of people speaking other languages as you walk by.  Las Vegas is like a microcosm of the American “melting pot” idea, reduced to city size.

Which raises the question:  why are so many different people drawn to a place like Las Vegas?  I’m sure that a lot of people just like the prospect of gambling, drinking, and otherwise cutting loose in a place that is legendary for its consequence-free, “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” mentality.  More broadly, though, I think many people are seeking a little spectacle and energy to break the routine and spice up their lives.  Las Vegas — with its neon, and fantastic buildings, and “anything goes” ‘tude — supplies it.

Old Vegas

If you head down the Strip toward the towering Stratosphere, it’s a bit like walking back in time. You leave behind all of the huge, sprawling casino and hotel complexes, with their lovely pools and different entertainment options and fine dining establishments, and end up passing places that are much more modest in scale and cost. These are places that date back to the earlier days of Vegas, when wedding chapels, all-you-can-eat buffets, and inexpensive motel rooms were among the attractions.

One of the places you’ll pass is Circus Circus, with its giant neon clown sign. When I came to Vegas in the late ’70s with college buddies, Circus Circus was one of our specific destinations because it was featured in one of our favorite books — Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. We played blackjack there, watched some of the circus acts, and used some lucky winnings to wolf down a huge meal at the all-you-can-eat prime rib buffet.

When Doctor Gonzo wrote the book, Circus Circus was one of the new generation of casino hotels. Given Las Vegas’ seemingly constant reinvention of itself, I wondered if I would find on this trip that Circus Circus had been replaced by some new shimmering tower. I was glad to see that it is still there, offering a glimpse of a different Vegas.